Things to do on your first trip to Paris
First thing you do as soon as you get to Paris? Get the Metro Pass and the Metro Map, of course. With those two, you are unstoppable in Paris. The next thing you do, is put your photo in your Metro Pass or you'll get fined. The thing after that you do, is wear your most comfortable, will-see-you-through-the-entire-day shoes - those are not blatant walking shoes - s'il vous plaît (I'm working on my French, clearly), this is Paris, let's have a bit of chic. (Wise words my friend Sanaa told me before my first trip)
Add to your travel kitty your camera, your phone, your wallet (tucked safely in inaccessible pockets, surely), a bottle of water (unless you want to spend a ridiculous amount of money buying water and ADD add to plastic waste) and some ideas from this blog and you're pretty much set!
1. Arc de Triomphe
Getting to the top of the Arc just as Paris begins to play with the sunlight is a great way to work up a first impression of Paris. Sunset or first thing in the morning, the views of Champs Elysees, the Eiffel Tower in the first-water Parisian light is a wonderful way to fall in love.
April to September - 10 am to 11.00 pm
October to March - 10 am to 10.30 pm
Adults : 8 €
Students (18 to 25 yrs) : 5 €
Groups (20 adults) : 6,20 €
Free for children and students up to 17yrs.
Best time to go: Right at opening time or just before the sun sets.
Closed on January 1, May 1,May 8 (morning) July 14 (morning), November 11 (morning) and December 25
2. Eiffel Tower
Of course, you can’t come to Paris and escape the iron lady’s hypnotic pull. But should you climb the Tower on your first visit? I’d leave you to be the judge of that. Though Sahit and I saved it for our second trip. The first time around, we sat and gazed at it instead of competing in line to get to the top. There is just so much to see and do in Paris that you have to take into account your daily budget of currency and time, and of course feet mileage. It’s free to just sit and gaze and take photographs. If you’re looking for the best places to shoot the Eiffel from - from the Trocadero balcony, from behind the carousel, from Tour Montparnasse, Passerelle Debilly, Printemps, some of the streets that lead to the Eiffel Tower, Champs de Mars and the from the Pont Alexandre III.
9:30 am to 11:45 pm (last entry 11:00 pm)
Mid June to Early September: 9 am to 12:45 am (last entry at midnight)
Stairs: 9:30 am to 6:30 pm (last ascent at 6)
Mid June to Early September: 9 am to 12:45 am (last entry at midnight)
Lift to 2nd floor - 16 Euros (Adults); 8 Euros (12-24 yrs); 4 Euros (4-11 years)
Lift to the 3rd floor - 25 Euros (Adults); 12,50 Euros (12-24 yrs); 6,30 Euros (4-11 years)
Stairs to the second floor - 10 Euros (Adults); 5 Euros (12-24 yrs); 2,50 Euros (4-11 years)
Stairs + lift to the top - 19 Euros (Adults); 9,50 Euros (12-24 yrs); 4,80 Euros (4-11 years)
3. The Seine
Don’t underestimate how beautiful it is to walk (or cycle) by the Seine. If the weather is good, just take your time with this lyrical ribbon. Every Pont (bridge) is a different chaplet in a hymn to the city of lights. Pont Alexandre III is a filigreed connection between Les Invalides (Army hospital and museum) and the Grand Palais-Petite Palais (Belle Epoque leftovers that now host the most recognised places for art exhibitions and shows).
Bir Hakeim is a pedestrian bridge which will give you tingles if you are a Nolan fan and is pretty close to the Eiffel Tower. And the hardly known Musee du Vin with its FREE tasting (opens at 10 am; Entrance 13.90 €) Pont Neuf is Paris’ oldest bridge and connects Ile de la Cite and its renowned citizens like Notre Dame, Saint Chapelle and Shakespeare & CO to your metro stop and runs parallel to the Pont Notre Dame and Pont au Change with their incredible views. You could take a sunset cruise if it doesn’t make you cringe as too touristy. A bottle of wine is known to go down really well with the views. I have a request - do spare the bridges your "Lock of Love". It's ridiculous and does the bridge no favours.
4. Notre Dame
Whether you’re a fan of churches or not, I’d recommend this one. Gothic architecture, regal of stature, and iconised by Victor Hugo, the cathedral has a formidable personality. It’s also free - though the audio guides come at 5 Euros. Sunday visits during mass time are nothing short of magnificent, when the whole power of pipe organs, the choir and the sermon echoing off the walls hits you with full force. Climb the towers (10 euros; free for up to 26 yrs) for some amazing views of Paris and make friends with the gargoyles. Use the JeFile app to save yourself the queue waiting time.
Spend sometime in the church courtyard feeding sparrows and pigeons.
5. Chateau de Versailles
Ah, Louis xiv’s brainchild is a beautiful child indeed. But I’d advice you to reserve an entire day for this. Honestly, I’d recommend exploring the gardens and the Trianon first and then the Palace. Why? A. It’s a lot more pleasant in the mornings for garden exploring. B. You’ll be tempted to give the gardens a miss when you’re done with the Palace - unless you’re a complete history buff, things will begin to look a bit too same-same after a while. And before you know it, you’ll just be flowing with the crowd. How do I know this? I did that. Visited the palace and gave the magnificent gardens a skip. Every time I watch Versailles on Netflix, I kick myself more and harder.
Passport (Access to everything) 20 Euros
2-day Passport - 25 Euros
Palace Ticket - 18 Euros
Estate of Trianon - 12 Euros
(Free for below 18 yrs and 26 yr olds of EU residence. Free entrance on the first Sunday of the month (November-March)
Palace - 9 am - 5 pm
Trianon - 12 pm - 5.30 pm
Holiday - Monday
gardens - Everyday
Book in advance
You must have that Le Chocolat Chaud l'Africain. Get there before 7.30 pm, wait in line - do whatever it takes to have some of that perfect, molten theobromatic memory.
7. Jardin des Tuileries
This garden that flanks the Louvre is a lovely place to sit and chill for a bit. It leads to the Louvre courtyard with the glass triangle where you can take pictures. And it’s free. It’s apparently a spectacle to behold in autumn.
8. Sacre Cour
Montmarte is a beautiful assault to the senses. The people, the stores, the vibe, the Moulin Rouge and yes, the kinky sex shops that come alive at night, making you gasp. But atop the hill, on the highest point of Paris sits the Sacre Couer surveying all things with a benevolent eye. Entrance to the church is free and if you can brave the crowds and the stairs, the view from the top is something of a miracle.
9. Le Marais
Go there and you’ll know why this beautiful Medieval neighbourhood has made it to this list. Churches, cafes, art stores, interesting people, free museums (Carnavalet Museum), passages, book stores, the Picasso Museum, the Jewish quarter - you name it and Le Marais has it. I love this neighbourhood so much that if you can afford it, go right ahead and make it your base. Stay there.
Or wander around aimlessly - or at least as aimlessly as possible in Paris. Pause to smell the freshly baked bread, get on that carousel(s), chill at a cafe, watch people, wish them Bonjour and smile. People-Watching is such part of the Parisian life that apparently people would walk their pet turtles to ensure a slower pace.
Shop shamelessly at Monoprix for the family back home, do pilgrimages of the heart by revisiting scenes from movies, fashion, books, travel shows, food shows. Like the cafe from Amélie or the bridge from Inception, etc. Stop to listen to sweet musicians and do tip them. Paris is not a to-do list. It's an experience. Or bookstores like Shakespeare & Co. or cafés where the literary greats frequented. Or if it's just food you're after, Paris can be one blissful mouthful to the next.
11. Don’t sign anything. Don’t try and save the world. Don’t suddenly think you’ve become this charismatic personality and strangers suddenly want to be your friend. Don’t not pay attention to your bag. Don’t let down your guard. Don’t want to play games with friendly strangers. Just say “Non, Merci” and walk away. They’re all trying to scam you.
I ought to include the Louvre in this list. But I honestly think that unless you’re a huge art/history fan, it’s quite pointless. It takes at least five days to do justice to this enormous museum. And five seconds to forget the last painting. (Though Napoleon's apartments are quite the visual treat.) Time and money you could spend on macaroons from Laduree or escargot or falafels from L'as du Fallafel or Berthillon ice-cream, or Ispahan or the Ispahan croissant from Pierre Herme, mille-feuille or the Napolean that will clean have you obsessing over it, aligot which is cheesier than all the Bollywood plots in the world, or one more croissant (there's just no such thing as too many), or a Le Petit Déjeuner Hemingway at the Le Deux Magots (which means the Two Chinese dudes - always thought maggots was a weird name for a cafe, but you can never tell with the French) if you’re a fan (I have to make that 26 Euro pilgrimage), or just about any food that catches your fancy. See what I did there? That’s a mini gastronomic itinerary right there. If you like museums but don't like crowds, Paris has a lot more options to experience niches of history more intimately. You can find them here. I’ve been to Paris twice and for a collective 14 days, but I’m yet to see a few places that would sit well on a first time trip.
1. Palais Garnier (11 Euros Independent visit/15,50 Guided Tour) Cannot wait to visit Paris’ Opera house. they even have a night tour
2. The Pantheon (€9) I have no idea how I’ve missed the resting place of so many famous Parisians it both times
3. St. Chapelle. (€10) Well at least like this one can know what it likes to live in the heart of a ruby.
4. Musee D’orsay (€12 / €9 (concessions); Concessions: 18-25 year olds who are not EU nationals or long-term residents, for all after 4:30pm except Thursdays and Saturdays, for all on Thursdays after 6pm. Closed on Mondays)
5. Hotel des Invalides (€11 without exhibitions; €12 with exhibitions) Or you can see it from outside (for free) by picnicking on the lawns just opposite this magnificent icon. (7.30am to 7pm (9pm on Tuesday from April to September)
6. Le Jardin du Luxembourg (Free) 7.30am and 8.15am, and closes between 4.30pm and 9.30pm
7. The Museum of Natural History
8. Jardin Des Plantes. It’s a garden and it’s free.
8. Palais Royal (free) How did I even miss this for so long! (October-March: every day, 8am-8.30pm. April-September: every day, 8am-10.30pm)
9. Rue Mouffetard in the 5tharrondissement (Quartier Latin) - one of Paris' oldest roads with a street market where you just might find a treasure load of stuff to take back home.
10. Galeries Vivienne. And every other one of Paris's covered galleries - they are time machines taking right back to the Belle Epoque. Things can be pricey but you don't have to pay to look.
But if you simply must do the Louvre, here are the details.
Monday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday: from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Wednesday, Friday: from 9 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.
Closed on Tuesdays
Free admission - Under-18s, EU residents aged 18-25, people with disabilities and their carer.
Book in advance
Tickets are valid on the day of booking only.
From October to March: access to the permanent collections is free for all visitors on the first Sunday of each month.
Audio guide? You're welcome!